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Why Katy Perry’s One-Word Description of Antidepressants Is Potentially Dangerous

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Dear Katy Perry,

You don’t know me, but I have read your comments online about your experience with depression — a medical condition that I, as well as millions of other Americans, have also struggled with.

As you know, depression is a devastating illness that wreaks havoc on one’s self-image, overall well-being and ability to function in day-to-day life. It imbues debilitating despair that cannot be chalked up to sadness or laziness — and, of course, the stigma associated with having depression can be more demoralizing than the disease itself, despite its prevalence. (According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 17.3 million American adults live with depression.) Depression also exists on a continuum, and while those living with depression can experience good days (perhaps even periods of remission, when treatment is successfully undertaken), the debilitating symptoms rarely, if ever, completely disappear. Since you publicly claimed to experience bouts with depression, I suspect you know these are universal truths about the disease. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, imagine my surprise when you referred to medication (for depression) as a “pharmaceutical crutch.” In an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music, you also said, “I just couldn’t get out of bed for weeks and became clinically depressed and had to get on medication for the first time in my life, and I was so ashamed of it. I was like, ‘I’m Katy Perry. I wrote Firework. I’m on medication. This is f***** up.’”

I’m sure you are a lovely privileged person, but do you not hear the outright condescension, entitlement and potential danger in your words? I know you live in a bubble created by a glamorous industry responsible for your mega success. (Kudos to you for succeeding in such a competitive, cutthroat business!) Still, it doesn’t take much self-reflection to see how your comments come across as careless, and worse, potentially dangerous.

Consider your reference to medication as a “pharmaceutical crutch.” Depression is a diagnosable medical illness, so why would anyone call prescribed medication to treat it a crutch? It would be unconscionable to call other medications a crutch; however, it’s acceptable to assume those living with depression are weak and “require a crutch” because they take medication to alleviate their unbearable symptoms and distress. Even people with depression — like you, Katy — have been conditioned for years to believe this nonsense, and some have paid for it dearly, whether by suicide or destroyed lives. Enough of this nonsense, please. Can we finally stop denigrating and casting aspersions on suffering patients who only seek treatment to get better?

Many people with depression — including some of your fans and social media followers — could actually benefit from antidepressants to alleviate their worst symptoms. Lots of impressionable young people who follow you (and don’t live in a fancy bubble) are drowning in a sea of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations imposed by social media. These detrimental expectations are damaging enough to an adult’s mindset, let alone an adolescent’s mental health. I realize you did not create the cesspool that defines a huge swath of social media, but like it or not, you are someone who mostly benefits from it. You are a public figure with a massive audience that’s far more likely to read your words about depression than information from other credible sources: Do you really think it’s prudent to publicly disparage any medically approved treatment for it?

Perhaps more importantly, don’t you think that you and I are lucky to have medication available to us as a treatment option? Especially considering so many people lack health insurance because we live in a country that considers it a privilege and not a human right. Imagine not being Katy Perry, and not being able to secure gainful employment (the typical source of health insurance benefits) because of your own depressive symptoms. I know you said you’re “ashamed” of the fact that you relied on medication to get you through the worst of your depression. I can empathize with your plight, but consider the shame a parent or any household providers might feel when they cannot afford necessary treatment for their child or loved one, or even themselves. Don’t you think genuine shame belongs to our broken health care system that treats mental health care as a frivolous amenity, like mimosas with your brunch? Wouldn’t you call that “f***** up,” Katy?

Yes, I know you’re Katy Perry, and you wrote “Firework.” Thank you for your contribution to the musical arts; however, so what? Are you implying people who live with depression are not capable of producing art or anything else of value? Your incredulity surely makes it appear so. There’s a long line of authors, artists, etc., who have lived with depression and contributed great works of art during their lifetimes. Many years ago, Sylvia Plath wrote “The Bell Jar,” which finally gave an eloquent voice to the suffering and anguish of mental illness from a woman’s perspective. Tragically, we all know what happened to her. Unfortunately, depression, like so many other illnesses, can happen to anyone. Depression does not care who you are, or what you do for a living; any human being can become afflicted by it. The misconception that somehow only fundamentally bad or character-flawed people can become depressed is a complete fallacy. Not only is it a false belief, it’s also a dangerous one. No human being deserves to suffer — wouldn’t you agree, Katy?

Truly, Katy, I wish you the very best with your recovery from depression. I wish the same for all people living with depression, including myself. My only other wish is that you consider using your powerful, well-regarded voice to elevate the lives of those of us who also live with depression (or any mental illness) but are much less privileged and routinely unheard. Your voice could do a lot to bring awareness to the disease and eliminate its stigma, once and for all.
In the meantime, please be mindful of the rest of us — we will be watching and waiting, Katy.

Image via Facebook

Originally published: September 26, 2020
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